Ending a Lease because of a Duty Order
If a service member on active duty with the United States military leases property for residence, business, or agriculture and is later ordered to a new location, the law provides some protection to the service member. If the order is a temporary duty order for more than 3 months or an order for permanent change of station, that service member’s responsibility to pay is capped. The service member cannot be ordered to pay for more than:
- 30 days rent after written notice and a copy of the military orders are given to the landlord; and
- the cost of repairing any damage to the premises caused by an act or failure to act of the service member.
For month-to-month premises leases, termination is effective 30 days after the date the next rent payment is due once the landlord has received notice of termination. For example, if rent is due on the first of every month, and the service member mails a termination notice to the landlord on March 1st, the next date rent is due will be April 1st. That means that termination of the lease will occur on May 1st.
For all other premises rentals, the lease will terminate on the last day of the month after the month in which the service member delivers proper notice. For example, if the service member has a year-long lease, and notice of termination is given on March 15th, the lease would terminate on April 30th.
Read the Law: 50 USC Section 3955(d)
Refund of Rent or Deposits
If rent has been paid in advance, the landlord must refund the unearned rent. The service member pays only for the months before the lease is terminated.
Once the lease has been lawfully terminated, the landlord must return the security deposit. The landlord may not hold the security deposit or the service member’s personal property, or block the service member from taking personal property because of a claim for rent after the lease termination date. Doing so is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine or imprisonment of not more than one year.
Eviction or Distress
A landlord needs a court order to evict a service member or dependents from a premises used or intended to be used as a primary residence if the monthly rent is not over a specific dollar amount. That amount is calculated by a formula based on inflation and published by the Secretary of Defense in the Federal Register each year. In 2017, the amount is $3584.99.
TIP: Use the search terms: "Servicemembers Civil Relief Act," "Federal Register," "housing price inflation," and the current year to find the most up-to-date amount.
A landlord needs a court order take the service member’s (or their dependents’) personal property for nonpayment of rent. (This legal action is called “distress.”)
Read the Law: 50 USC Section 3951(a)
Stay of Eviction or Distress
If a service member’s ability to pay rent is materially affected by military service and the service member asks the court, the court must delay (stay) proceedings for 3 months. The court may also delay proceedings on its own, even if the service member does not ask. The court can make the delay longer or shorter in the interest of fairness and justice.
The court may also make adjustments to the lease to help both the service member and the landlord.
If the court grants the service member a stay, the court may also grant any relief to the landlord that the court thinks is just.
Any person who knowingly participates in an eviction or distress in violation of this law is subject to federal penalties of a fine or imprisonment for up to one year, or both.
If ordered by the court, the Secretary of Defense, etc., must order that a portion of the service member’s pay be put aside toward paying the court order. The amount of money put aside is subject to the rules of the Secretary of Defense governing how much may be taken from a service member’s pay.